Six years ago I buried my mother. Last month I buried my father. Two weeks ago I buried my grandmother. Still in my thirties, I am relatively young to be an orphan. As a result, over the past few weeks I have found myself projecting thirty and forty years into the future and asking, "Who is going to take care of me in my old age?" Of course, it is my higher intention to live a fully active and highly functional, joyful life until the day I die. Nonetheless, I am aware of the fear and insecurity I experience in regards to this question.
This is why it is my honor to bring your attention to a non-profit organization in LA's Gay and Lesbian Community called Gay and Lesbian Elder Housing (GLEH) that answers this question for many of our Gay and Lesbian elders. GLEH is the founding organization for Triangle Square in Los Angeles, which is the first housing facility of its kind to provide high-quality affordable residential communities that provide a safe nurturing environment for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) older adults. GLEH has the intention of duplicating these services throughout the country.
In the LGBT community we rarely hear about the issues that our elders face amidst the current fiery discussions regarding Hate Crimes Legislation, the Repeal of DOMA (defense against marriage act), repeal of DODT (Don't Ask Don't Tell), and the passing of an inclusive ENDA (Employment Non-discrimination Act). Nonetheless, it is the population of LGBT Senior Citizens and elders that have made the very conversations regarding our equal rights possible. In addition, in a majority of cases LGBT seniors and elders do not have traditional, familial support networks. Of our current elder population many had the courage to come out of the closet at a time when being LGBT was much less accepted, and many were ostracized by their families and friends. Therefore, they are relying on our community and friends to support them through the often challenging senior life stage.
Here are some facts taken from GLEH website about LGBT seniors that you may not realize:
• Same-sex partners CANNOT share a room in most care facilities.
• There are many government programs that target the elderly, but do not specifically target the needs of LGBT seniors.
• GLBT older adults face race, class, age bias/ageism and isolation within their own community.
• Many GLBT older adults retreat back into the closet, due to homophobia amongst those entrusted with the care of older adults.
• Same-sex partners CANNOT receive Social Security survivor benefits.
• Basic rights and hospital visitation are regularly denied to same-sex partners.
• Medicaid regulations protect the assets and homes of married spouses when their partner enters a nursing home or long-term care facility; no such protection is offered to same-sex partners.
This past Sunday I had the opportunity to honor these seniors along with straight celebrity allies Sharon Gless, and Leeza Gibbons by attending the annual Garden Party fundraiser held at the estate of Dayna Devin, and Dr. Brent Moelleken in the Hancock Park neighborhood of Los Angeles. Although unintentional, it was uncanny that this fundraiser fell on the same day as National Coming Out Day and the National Equality March in Washington -- in addition October is National Lesbian and Gay History Month.
Along with the LGBT seniors that were honored by the presence of so many supporters, Leeza Gibbons (of Entertainment Tonight fame) was honored with the Ron Gelb Humanitarian Community Award. Ron Gelb was one of the original visionaries and board members of GLEH. Gibbons was honored for her pioneering work with Leeza's Place (www.leezasplace.org), which is an organization that she founded after traversing her own struggles as a caregiver for her elderly mother, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in the late nineties. Leeza's Place integrates educational programs, connective social activities, emotional support, and intergenerational programming, and will be partnering with Triangle Square to provide these services.
Also recognized Sunday afternoon was Sharon Gless. I was particularly moved by the way in which she showed her appreciation for being honored by the LGBT community. Gless was awarded for her bold and courageous body of work as an actress that helped pave the way for openly lesbian, gay, and gender bending roles on television, particularly in her role as Christine Cagney on Cagney and Lacey. Gless shares her story how in the face of her network's desire to feminize Cagney, she and her producers stood their ground, and unintentionally helped pave the way for LGBT roles and roles for strong women in television. I would go as far as to say that if Cagney and Lacey were on TV today, Christine would be an out lesbian. She fearlessly played the role of Debbie Novotny (the mother) on Showtime's Queer As Folk. As the mother of main character Michael Novotny, she provided a home for LGBT people on TV for five years. And in the upcoming film Hannah Free, Gless plays an adventurous, unapologetic lesbian who struggles between her free spirit and the woman she loves. The graciousness with which Sharon Gless accepted her award was yet another demonstration of her profound gratitude and commitment to the LGBT community . You see, she wasn't initially present to accept the award. That very afternoon she had an unforeseen family medical emergency . However, when things stabilized at the hospital, Gless made her way to the event, which was towards the end of the day after most had already departed, and graciously accepted the award.
It was my honor to speak with some of the LGBT seniors living at Triangle Square who were present at the fundraiser. I am delighted to report the depth of gratitude and relief that pours from them. One elder gentleman shared his story of having to sell his home to pay medical bills and being unable to afford skyrocketing LA rent. Without Triangle Place he would have been homeless. What became more than apparent in speaking with those who live there is that Triangle Place is more than a place to live. It is a community where people are comfortable, and free to be themselves through the rest of their lives and beyond.
I also spoke with Ben Patrick Johnson, recent founder of the Ben Patrick Johnson Foundation (bpjfoundation.org) who has chosen GLEH as one of the main beneficiaries of his organization. I asked him why he chose GLEH. He responded, "There is a pretty good support structure in place for people in traditional life patterns, but what about gays and lesbians, what about people that are transgendered, and people who are on the fringes and have gone voiceless, for them I have seen a vacuum. We now have two generations (the generations that are growing up after our elders) that are able to be more powerful and have more visibility, we owe those who paved the way for that, not only gratitude, but to look after them on a very human level."
I agree with BPJ's sentiment. I feel that I am being called even more deeply after the recent loss of my remaining biological parental figures, to express freely the profound love and truth that dwells within me. Part of this expression is my honor and care for those who walk before me. In our LGBT family our elders, in a way, are our parents who have illuminated the path for us and we owe them comfort and love at this stage in their life.
To learn more about GLEH or to get involved go to www.gleh.org
Jason Mannino is a career/life coach. To learn more about him: www.jmannino.com